Lord Leighton

Leonee Ormond, Richard Ormond

Publicaton Date
November 1975
Standard Number
Yale University Press
216 pages

This is the first full-scale study of Lord Leighton’s life and work to be published for over sixty years. Based on a wealth of unpublished material, it offers fresh critical insight into the painting of an important Victorian artist. It also includes a complete catalogue of Leighton’s oil paintings, with over two hundred reproductions, several in colour.

Leighton is not an easy subject for the biographer. The impression he left on his contemporaries was of the brilliant and faultless public figure, the child of fortune, the President of the Royal Academy. Even as a young man he was known as ‘the admirable Crichton’, and it is difficult to penetrate the surface of his personality. This book, however, casts new light on Leighton’s private life, revealing him to have been altogether more emotional and complex than the conventional image of him might suggest. In particular, it traces those relationships which affected him most, early on with his forbidding father, later with the opera singer Adelaide Sartoris, and finally with the actress and model Dorothy Dene, who inspired many of his greatest works.

With the stigma attached to Victorian art gradually disappearing, it is possible to judge Leighton’s work more impartially than before. Although he was not a great pioneer, he was an artist of great refinement and aesthetic sensibility. Trained in the continental academic tradition, Leighton gradually abandoned the style of his early historical pictures for a more evocative and aesthetic form of art largely classical in inspiration. His later work provides a fascinating perspective on the emotional and visual concerns of late Victorian patrons and on those of one of the most successful of widely respected painters of his age.

About the authors

  • Independent art historian and the great-nephew of John Singer Sargent.